Sunday, 22 February 2015

MA-Ness Week 7 Cyanotypes, Presentations, Potential Collaborations and Music While You Work....

It's 4pm on Sunday afternoon and in an attempt to get ahead of myself and feel a bit more on top of things I decided to write my blog post today instead of my usual Monday morning when I normally try to collate all my thoughts from the past week and lots of thoughts there have been if you look at my post it note - which is all in my handwriting this week but occasionally in different pens....

This week I have been mostly cyanotyping and presentation writing and thinking. I have just about got to grips with the process in photoshop needed to make images into a format that can be successfully copied onto acetate and used in cyanotyping - that is greyscaling the image if needed (some of mine did thanks to this pesky new habit I seem to have developed of taking images in colour) inverting it and upping the contrast so that the blacks are blacker and the whites are whiter - all the better for making successful cyanotype images and I am really chuffed with my practice ones, even if it does take longer than you think - leading to my new aphorism for the week - namely a watched cyanotype never develops......

These are some of the ones I did in college, on the left is one of my favourite reflection images of me and my husband in a mirror at the top of a car park in Tib Street Manchester (be grateful that the image does not have smell attached as the stench of skunk and piss in that car park was almost overpowering but the murky mirror was too wonderful to resist and though I lowered myself to take the image I did not let my knee touch the floor) and the other two are of my friend Jen as a faux victorian widow in St George's Fields - my usual fave graveyard haunt and which I returned to this week to do some papier mache relief work in....but am getting ahead of myself.

I loved being in the darkroom again, the act of painting the solution of potassium ferricyanide and ammonium citric acid onto the paper in thick brush strokes - it made me think of the way I paint my nails and I found it rather therapeutic plus I love the way it shows on the paper too - missed bits and lined gaps all add to the charm of the end result to me, plus it looks like a human has been involved in the process too as opposed to the clean sharpness of a digital print say.

Once painted you leave it to dry and then place whatever you want on top of it and weight it down with glass if need be, I did images I'd transferred onto acetate the previous week and then you leave it in the sunshine as it is the action of the uv light in sunshine that makes the print develop.

Once all the yellowy tones has gone from the paper then it's ready to be washed off in clear water for about 20 minutes and then you leave it to dry again. You can only really under develop them so it's no problem if you go off to get a sandwich, nip to the library or do any of the other things I did whilst waiting for them to develop. But it is more difficult to see that on the grey paper I used so although that appeals to me more colourwise I don't think it's as successful so far as showing the images than the other paler coloured paper....or maybe I just need to leave it for much much longer......

It was however a ballache when inconsiderate and unthinking fellow users of the dark room left other equipment drying on top of one of my almost dry prints meaning it had to be washed and dried again.....sigh.

But I also coated paper ready to use at home where the only potential interference is from a cat either sitting on it or knocking it but thankfully Mapp and Lucia were well behaved and other than a cursory sniff they left them alone and they didn't seem to mind being shut out of the bathroom either whilst I washed the prints - using an old litter tray which was handy as none of the red photographic trays which I know we have could be found in the garage. I am very pleased with the results too

Eagled eyes amongst you may notice a smaller than A4 print of me and my beloved John Waters - this was done on the ready made commercially available cyanotype paper you can buy and developed under the sun lamp which was wedged on top of two boxes of cat food (how's that for a Heath Robinson device eh?) and although I like the texture of the paper I much prefer the 'home made' - well college dark room made version instead.

Cyanotyping is definitely something I will be doing more of - I like the process, the like the end results and their slightly unpredicatable variability and as a process that was brought to public attention by Anna Atkins (info her here ) it also warms the cockles of my victorian loving feminist heart.

I'll also be able to do much more of it at home once I've bought some more pegs so I can hang them up to dry more easily - the perils of having a tumble dryer is that you don't have pega anymore and the clips you use to hang up film have spikes in them and so are no good if you are trying to keep the paper as intact as possible.

I also spent a big part of my time last week writing and practicing a 10 minute powerpoint presentation for the Practice and Personal Development Module I'm working on at the moment and for which my portfolio needs to be handed in towards the end of March.

I thought I had the hang of the technical side of this powerpoint malarkey as I've done 3 now but at times I wanted to tear my hair out in frustration as on Monday evening I could just not get images to go where I wanted them to and resizing them so they would be smaller and so more easily emailable and transportable on a memory stick seemed a right ball-ache too.

But coming back to it with much less tired eyes and brain on Thursday I at least got it into the shape I wanted and I got very positive feedback for it - both from my fellow ma-ers and the tutors so that was both a good and b) big relief as the one thing I've learnt is how important it is to be able to give a good presentation of yourself and your work.
Plus I once again shamelessly used the opportunity to show images of my beloved Peter Cushing on a big screen - which can never be a bad thing in my book. It was also a good opportunity to go over all the stuff I've been doing over the last few months and realise how much further along I am in practice, understanding and presentation too.

This time last year I had hardly done any presenting nor used the dreaded powerpoint but now I have done an artists talk, a speech at the Place and Memory launch at Inkwell, a speech at Leeds Museum as part of the Love Arts Festival (you can see me here on page 7) a talk to girl guides, a talk at the Cultural Heritage Show and Tell event also at Leeds Museum as well as 3 presentations at college.

If you'd told me this time last year I'd be doing that I'd have laughed in your face. I still get nervous and have a horrid disconnect between heart and head as in my heart is going nineteen to the dozen but my head is saying it's okay - you can do this but it's really important for me to be able to do this. And the other note to self is - if you are tired then leave it alone and come back to it when you are less tired as it'll b easier then.

Plus this time I wrote the words first and then added the images - last times I found the images first and then wrote words to fit them.....think I prefer the latter way of doing things. Oh and other lesson learnt - if printing speech double sided then write page number at top of each side of paper so you don't get confused as to which side you're on. Confusion which thankfully didn't show.....

And speaking of thought provoking images - here is one I saw on my friend Jane's facebook page the other day:

which I found very appealing and interesting but when I looked up its source and discovered it is from his weighty tome called The Essence of Christianity I decided to stick with my first love theorist Roland Barthes who I have fallen in love with on the basis of his talking of about emotion and the dead. I heart Barthes.

I went back to St George's Field yesterday to learn a little of the papier mache relief technique from my fellow ma-er Lesley and this is the result so far: a detail taken from the corner of one of the gravestones there of Joseph and Mary Ellen Beaumont - first you wet the grave and then layer it with pieces of toilet paper (apparently asda shades is the best for this job) and get it into the nooks and crannies with use of a stencil brush and continue to wet it, let it dry a little bit then remove the piece as a whole and lay it on a flat surface for it to dry completely.

I'm really pleased with this and will definitely be going back to do some more when the weather is a little warmer and less windy - I like it because it makes me feel like I am doing something with my hands as opposed to my eyes and a machine, I am interacting directly with the subject matter plus best of all from an ethical point of view it does no harm nor leaves any trace on the gravestone. My kind of process.

Plus in some ways this makes me feel more of an artist which is all to the good as it silences my inner critic which says I cannot be an artist because I do not paint or illogical view and one which I do not apply to others but do apply to myself......mmm something else to work on. As is my other illogical inner critic voice which is starting to murmur 'jill of all trades and mistress of none' which again is ill-founded and not one I would apply to others - artists need to be able to write (convincing funding applications if nothing else) so why do I feel a disconnect between writing and doing - when really they are equally important if not same sized bits of the whole...mmm a whole other thing to pick apart there.....

What else? well a couple of years ago I did a course in Human Remains Analysis at the Discovery Centre in Leeds and it was fantastic. I learnt lots, got to handle human bones and best of all my favourite things human skulls as well as have a nosey round the Discovery Centre which is marvellous - and well worth a trip if you haven't been - details here and I have stayed in touch with the lovely lady who ran it and last week I mooted the possibility of a collaborative project though as yet I am not quite sure what format it will take and to my delight she has said yes to talking about it - so watch this space for further developments........    

Edited to add - realised my posts are getting longer and longer, this one has more images than any other (will I ever reach a point where I can do a John Berger-like essay which is only images?) and I forgot to write about music which was I usually have Radio 4 on whilst I work but this week I have mostly been listening to the soundtrack from Only Lovers Left Alive which my husband gave me for Valentines Day which is gorgeously ethereal and languid.....might make a point o listening to R3 this week instead and see what difference if any that makes.....

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